Effective written communication matters. It matters if you are planning a career as a journalist or a writer, but it also matters if you plan to work with people too. It matters. Therefore, as both a parent and an educator, this is one of the skills that I believe is universally important to foster.
And how exactly do I work to foster writing development? Practice. I am a strong believer that—as in most other areas of development—good writers are made, not born. This assumption, which is based on significant formal research as well as personal experience, is the premise for all of the writing we do in Group Tutorial IV (GTIV) and is also a strong message shared with youth.
Keeping in mind that developing clear written communication skills will prove beneficial to youth in their future endeavors, I work to develop confidence and proficiency in young writers. The GTIV program exposes youth to various types of writing and makes apparent the obvious value of developing written expression. But how exactly does this occur in GTIV?
First, a significant component of the GTIV program is the Comprehensive Projects (CPs). While the independent research and writing of papers for these projects occurs outside of program time, we work in program to brainstorm topics, to develop strong thesis statements and to create basic outlines. One goal of the Comprehensive Projects is for each youth to explore a subject that is personally meaningful and that warrants sustained interest and research in an effort to deepen a youth’s understanding of the chosen topic. Past CPs have included thesis statements such as “The rise of female superheroes supports strong feminist beliefs” and “Sign Language is the best way the Deaf can communicate.”
Youth participate in the drafting process of CPs by reading each other’s paper drafts and providing peer feedback. This guided work helps youth practice the skill of reading a piece and thinking critically about how it can be improved. In this activity youth are focused on responding to content, not rules of grammar and punctuation. Comprehensive Project papers also undergo several drafts with facilitator mentors that focus on developing the structure of the piece as well as general editing and proofreading.
A second way that writing is developed in GTIV is through creation of formal written abstracts, a part of their Science Expo Projects. After a three-month process of designing and conducting a controlled experiment, youth learn to write a formal 250-word scientific abstract. This written piece is printed in the program that is provided to attendees of the spring Science Expo (come join us on Friday, May 12 for this exciting event!).
In addition to these two formal writing opportunities, youth engage in weekly creative writing activities that focus on topics such as overcoming writer’s block, character development, persuasion, humor, and more. The writings are often done in short bursts, and youth share these pieces of writing with peers in small or large groups and often provide feedback to each other. Providing youth with the opportunity to share their writing and to both receive and share feedback in a group setting often brings out the best efforts of young writers (or any writer), as the immediate need to be explicit in communication is apparent when others are reading and responding to one’s writing.
In all of these opportunities to write in GTIV one theme is consistent: youth are writing for a purpose. Whether they are writing to educate, explain, and persuade with their CP; to report their scientific research findings; or to entertain each other, they are gaining practice while writing for a real audience. It is this practice—the on-going process of writing—that helps youth to develop into effective writers and communicators, a skill that is widely necessary and underdeveloped in the world beyond Open Connections.